Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Madness of Mice and Men

“Insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives…”—Ecclesiastes 9:3, partial, NASB.
“Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life,” published in 1998, is a motivational book by Dr. Spencer Johnson that has been adopted by much of the business world as a psychological or philosophical formula to handle the inevitable disillusionment massive change causes in their employees.  It depicts men and mice maneuvering about within a maze in an attempt to find cheese and is supposed to be analogous to the business world rat race.  Within this pitiable constraint mice and men are blind to ultimate purpose; men like mice live only in search of their next meal.  Their environment—a maze—is conceded; and that amazes me most!  Even in Steinbeck’s novella “Of Mice and Men,” which depicts the constraints of circumstance and fallen human nature, the characters of the story are allowed to live and die on a large enough stage to at least make them think themselves free to pursue their dreams unmolested.  They live and die under God’s sovereign sky and not under the oppressive manmade regime which is the ceiling of an artificial environment known as the business world model.  The inspiration for Steinbeck’s work came from a Robert Burn’s poem: "To A Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest, with the Plough." The title for his novella came specifically from these lines:
But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leaves us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
  The inevitability of failure suggested in both Steinbeck’s and Johnson’s works might seem morbid and faithless, but the idea of Dr. Johnson—to continue moving cheese about within a broken system—is more than morbid and faithless: it is cruel and tyrannical.  In Steinbeck’s work, the characters are at least free to think they will not fail, whereas, Dr. Johnson’s characters have already failed before they begin by being placed under plastic rules of thumb.
  A principle—whether a business or moral one—is an enemy of natural behavior and is often used as the insidious expedient of a tyrant.   One’s actual disposition rebels against formulaic and principled constructions; alien principles must ultimately be overthrown.  They are like training wheels on a bike; useful and expedient in the beginning stages of development but cumbersome and restrictive in maturity.  Assuming proper human development is likened to the way “poetry replaces grammar, gospel replaces law, longing transforms obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a grounded ship” (C.S. Lewis, 2001, Weight of Glory, p. 28). Indeed, the best laid plans or schemes of mice and men do often go askew, not because of poor planning and execution, but because of this fundamental misunderstanding of the true nature of things.  Law is juvenile, servile and a restraint upon all that is animal or flesh; it is a necessary spark to the full conflagration that is grace and truth.  As mercy triumphs over judgment, so law must be triumphed over through perpetual acts of obedience.  These acts of obedience are like blows upon a hammer that drives the stake of law through the rebellious heart of man simultaneously destroying his old nature and staking a claim to his new one.  It is only when law is internalized and matured and the nature inherently obeys either what a man or mice ought to obey that disaster is averted.  No matter how advanced a man might scheme and implement or how rudimentary a mouse might do the same, in the end, all is plowed up, disrupted and altogether discovered.  Who, where, when and how we build our lives is unearthed; the why of the matter is left to archeology (future plowers) to interpret.  What we think and feel are entirely linked to where we have intrinsically attached ourselves; madness and failure if to ourselves we were true, sanity and maturity if we were true to God alone.           
 The inevitability of disaster under Dr. Johnson’s care might be just as inevitable under God’s sovereign sky, and God might be just as cruel and tyrannical, but again, the stage is too large upon which this transpires and the characters too small to see over enough horizon to comprehend where they are placed within this cosmic maze or to interpret God’s intentions.   Youthful optimism might reason that overturning nests are a form of harvesting (which is a good and positive thing) and a jaded pessimism might reason that every plow furrow is a witch hunt seeking to unsettle every home and burn every soul at the stake.  Yet it is an isolated and happenstance tragedy; not persistent enough to be optimistic or insistent enough to be pessimistic. Certainly the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  No matter how outstretched our hands they cannot touch a sovereign sky.  No matter how many plows we put our hands to we cannot dig up enough dirt on anyone.  Yet we live without this knowledge; we stretch beyond the breaking point and we plow everything under without distinction.  Our insanity is not an insanity of principle but of nature; we cannot take steps to extract ourselves from the pit because the pit is that pit at the core of our being where that stake has already been driven.     
 The difference, of course, a distinction that must be made, is that Dr. Johnson is not God, whereas God is far more than Dr. Johnson.  There are only so many placements of cheese in Dr. Johnson’s world; madness is inevitable because of limitation.  It is God’s inscrutableness, His illimitedness, the very idea of infinity that makes sanity possible.   A free will has free reign within an illimited sky; any imposition by a God with an inscrutable nature is meaningless from our perspective because any definition of anything is always in relationship to His inexhaustible nature.  Thus, the stake driven through the heart of our being either fastens us to God’s nature or it fastens us at the end of the length of Dr. Johnson’s madness near a pile of cheese in a maze without exits.